March 31, 2013

Strawberry Limeade Bars

Oh how I love Wit and Whistle.  Amanda makes the best fun things to try!  This recipe is no exception.  SO yummy- bright and light and sweet, it just hits the spot for spring.  Definitely a keeper.



  • 1 box strawberry cake mix
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons lime zest (2 limes were enough)
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup lime juice (juice from the 2 limes + store bought lime juice)

  1. Preheat oven to 350° and butter the bottom and sides of a 9x13 pan.  Mix crust ingredients in a stand mixer until well blended.  Press crust mix into the pan and bake for 15 minutes.
  2. Mix topping ingredients (may have some clumps; that's ok) and pour over baked crust.  Bake an additional 25 minutes, until set.
  3. Sprinkle with powdered sugar while still warm.  Allow to cool, then cut into bars.  Some of mine were a bit crispy at the edges of the pan, so you may want to trim the crispy parts after cutting the bars.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Yum yum yum yum yum!

Magic Easter Beans

My son and I started a fun new Easter tradition this year.  The night before Easter, we bury "magic" jelly beans in the garden.  In the morning when we check on them, they've grown into beautiful lollipops!  I credit Pinterest with this excellent idea, and also with the guidance that the beans are ONLY magic on the night before Easter.  Clever.  ;)  I could find the awesome swirly lollipop they used (Party City was all out) but a little boquet of lollipops worked wonderfully, too.

Bunny Cinnamon Rolls

I saw an adorable pic on Pinterest of cinnamon rolls reshaped into a bunny silhouette.  Hey- I can do that!  And I did, but I'm still not sure whether this should be classified as a pinstrosity or a pin win.  The end product was certainly  tasty if not quite looking the way I wanted it to, and the poor little bunny tails fell off left and right.  For a first try though, I give this a pass.  Let's see if my experience can be of any help to you. ;)


  • 1 tube of premade cinnamon rolls with icing
  1. Unroll the individual cinnamon rolls.  This may involve some tearing to get it started.  Tear off the end of the rope (which was the center of the cinnamon roll) and set aside for your bunny tail.  Roll the dough into an even rope (yes, you must do this, otherwise you get weird non-bunnies and sigh and realize you have to do it after all).  My ropes were lumpy and uneven and they resulted in some... odd looking... bunnies...  so be sure the ropes are nice and even, okay?  Twist the rope to make the bunny shape.  Nestle the bunny tail into the hole at the bottom of the twist.  I just set mine on top and that wasn't enough- the tail really needs to be inside the hole as part of the bunny.  Shape the bunny ears as desired.
  2. Bake as directed- mine took 9 minutes at 400°.
  3. Spread icing on warm rolls and let sit.
Shaped dough bunnies.  Hey, we're looking good here!

Baked bunnies. Some are cute and bunny shaped others... ummmm...

Yay for frosting!  Still, that 3rd "bunny" on the bottom row is just not right.

Hey this little guy looks pretty darned perfect!  This is why I will credit myself with a partial pin win.

Paper Easter Egg Garland

Yesterday my son and I put up a really colorful, fun Easter egg garland.  I cut out egg shapes from some of his old paintings and drawings on different colors of construction paper.  We added on some ribbon, confetti, and colored a bit extra to make them Eastery.  I then threaded them with string and hung them in the kitchen window.  Fun and easy!

Garland in the afternoon- hard to see the decorations with that back lighting!

Ahh, nighttime and we can see the magic.  Some stripes, polka dots, and zig zags transformed these into recognizable Easter eggs.

My son REALLY liked drawing stripes on the eggs.

March 20, 2013

Pom-Pom Cotton Ball Sheep

In further Easter craftiness, I thought it would be fun to make a cute little sheep.  I saw these super adorable cupcakes on Pinterest, but had no interest in making marshmallow-covered cupcakes.  The marshmallows would never last, for one (my son would eat them all), and I'm not really into making cupcakes.  So I thought to myself "ya know, little pom poms look marshmallow-y, and thus sheep fuff-y.  I could glue a bunch of those to a plastic Easter egg, add a little face, and have a cute sheep!"  A bag of small pom poms later and my son and I were ready to go.

  • Small white pom poms (page of 80)
  • Craft glue
  • Plastic Easter egg or other material for sheep body
  • 2 Googly eyes
  • Black construction paper
  • Black paint

  1. Glue a portion of egg and add pom poms close together.  Glue another portion and repeat until covered.  Set aside to dry.
  2. Cut out 2 cute lil ears and an oval for a face.  Glue googly eyes to face.  Glue construction paper to sheep body.  I like that my guy's face is a little disproportionate to his fat body.  :)
  3. Paint the bottom half of 4 pom poms to be your sheep's hooves.  Alternatively, you could glue strips of construction paper around those pom poms.  Let dry, then glue to bottom of sheep.  Laugh when he gives you a surprised gopher face.
 4. Add a little extra pom pom on his bum for a tail.

March 13, 2013

Parmesan Scalloped Potatoes

Ohhh yum did we hit on something good here.  Scalloped potatoes.  In classy looking little towers.  Crispy top layer and soft bottom layers.  Parmesan cheese flavor throughout.  Earned a "They're *really* good" from my husband.  Mmmmm starch.

  • You will have a scorched muffin tin you may consider throwing away afterward.  Don't despair.  A good soak with some dish soap and the gunk comes off with a scrub.
  • Because of aforementioned muffin tin, you may consider just making these plain old scalloped potato style in a casserole dish.  Don't.  It's baking them in the muffin tin that gets that awesome Parmesan sauce to seep into each dreamy potato stack, so don't go fighting it.
  • Let us all give a slow clap to Insockmonkeyslippers for this recipe.

Makes 6 stacks; enough to serve as a dinner side for 2 adults

  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 shallot
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/2 cup + 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, plus extra for garnish
  • 2 medium baking potatoes
  1. Spray a muffin tin with copious amounts of nonstick spray.  Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. Peel and mince the garlic and shallot.  Transfer to a medium mixing bowl.  Stir in the half and half, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese, and the salt, pepper, and thyme.  Set aside.
  3. Peel the potatoes and slice with a food processor.  You may need to cut the potatoes a bit to fit.  [Sidebar: I am a food processor potato slicing convert.  I really love my mandolin slicer for softer things, but trying to slice potatoes on that thing is a workout.  Use the food processor's slicer disc and be done with the slicing in 10 seconds.]
  4. Stack 7-10 potato slices in each muffin tin cup.  You may need to trim some slices to fit nicely into the tin.  I just weeded through the slices for the "good" sizes.  Do not stack potatoes higher than the cup.  Spoon about 1/4 cup of the half and half mixture into each cup, pouring over the stacked potatoes.  Do NOT overflow the cups.  Tent the muffin tin with aluminum foil.  If the foil is too close to the potatoes, it'll stick to them, and you don't want that.
  5. Bake for 35 minutes.  Remove the foil and sprinkle each stack of potatoes with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.  Put back in the oven and bake 10-15 minutes more, until the tops are golden brown and the liquid is absorbed into the potatoes.
  6. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool.  Carefully slide a knife around the edges of each stack to loosen the potatoes, then gently remove and serve.  I used a spoon to lift mine out, and damaged the bottom layer or two in the process.  Share any improvements you have on removal method!
  7. Add additional thyme as a garnish, if desired.

March 10, 2013

Parmesan Scallops

Mmm... tasty scallops.  A friend and I were recently discussing how intimidated we were over cooking scallops, but with a recipe like this it's an easy enough process and only takes less than 10 minutes!  I came across a Betty Crocker recipe for scallops on Pinterest, and the skill level was appropriately mellow for me.  While I was a bit frustrated with the Parmesan sticking to the pan despite my efforts to shift the scallops throughout the cook time, I think that can be easily modified with more butter/oil in the pan and more frequent nudging.  Next time: the same recipe with bacon.  Muahahaha.

  • 6 large scallops
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Pepper and cut chives (optional)
  1. Pat the scallops dry on both sides with a paper towel.  Place grated cheese in a bowl.  Coat scallops with cheese and discard excess cheese.
  2. Heat oil and butter in a large pan over medium-high heat.  Cook the scallops about 3 per side, nudging during cooking time so the cheese doesn't burn to the pan.  Cook scallops until golden brown on outside and opaque inside.  Let sit a minute or two before serving.  Sprinkle with pepper and chives if desired.

March 8, 2013

Cotton Ball Easter Bunny Craft

Realizing the clock is ticking toward Easter, I was shocked my son and I hadn't done any crafts for it yet!  That was easily rectified with some cotton balls.


  • About 20 cotton balls
  • Construction paper or other surface to glue everything to
  • Pink felt or construction paper for ears and nose
  • White yarn for whiskers
  • White construction paper for eyes
  • Black construction paper for eyes and mouth
  • Glue
  1. Trace an outline of a bunny head for your toddler to use as a guide when gluing down the cotton balls.
  2. Prepare the features in advance by cutting from felt or construction paper:
    • 2 pink ovals for ears
    • 2 white ovals for eyes
    • 2 black circles for pupils
    • 8 bits of yarn for whiskers
    • 1 pink triangle for nose
    • 1 black mouth
  3. Let your toddler pick a cotton ball, you can add a dab of glue, and help them glue it within the outline.
  4. When the cotton balls are all glued down, glue the features one by one.  For the whiskers, I just added a glob of glue on each side of the nose and we attached one end in the glob.  Gluey finger tips ensued.  The other end of the whiskers pretty much sticks to the cotton balls anyway but isn't glued down.
The outline does not have to be beautiful.  It gets covered by the cotton balls.  ;)

Bunny building stockpile.

March 6, 2013

Construction Birthday Party

One of my favorite things about this year's birthday party for my son is that he keeps talking about it.  From sharing details about the cake ("it had jellybean lights!  and cookie wheels!") to playing with our guests, to reminding me about the things we decorated together ("we put up streamers"), his over the top happiness over it made the work so worthwhile.

First up are the worms in dirt.  I kinda botched the recipe a bit, forgetting to stir milk into the pudding mix before I added my whipped cream.  Whoops.  Still edible, though!  I also like the idea of the Dig In sign which I stole from Pinterest.

I also had the idea to serve creamsicle punch.  I don't know why I stuck on that idea- maybe it was the thought of orange punch that made sense?- but I found a good recipe on Pinterest and it was a hit. The funny thing is, the pic and recipe I pinned are totally different from the ones the pin actually linked to.  Anyway, I'm happy with the one I used.

More Pinterest sign idea thievery- treating the drink area as a gas station.  Cute!  I like my sign more, too.

Now this one I can take total credit for.  What better way to serve lunch at a construction site than in lunch pails?!  Just a few bucks sent to Oriental Trading and I was in business. I forgot to nab a picture of it, but behind the lunch boxes I put up a picture of construction workers eating their lunches from pails on a steel beam as they built a skyscraper.  Extra bonus: with the lunches labeled, I didn't have to decode each sandwich for each guest like I did last year.

Lunch pails were packed the morning of the party, with sandwiches catered by The Corner Bakery (sooo good, and the ones with pretzel bread went the fastest), a handful of chips, and a napkin.

And the Best Supporting Actor of the party (second fiddle to our star, the birthday boy) is the dump truck cake!  Recipe here.  Like I say in that blog post, I couldn't find a cake pan worthy of this party, so I decided to get creative and craft my own.  Lots of oohs and ahhs and "what's that filling in the truck bed?" over this one.  (Answer: pieces of the cake from when I trimmed it, cut up Reese's pb cups, and crushed graham crackers.)

When I served the cake, I also doled out ice cream in no time flat.  I took this genius idea from the Pinterest gods, and scooped ice cream into cupcake liners before the party.  When it came time for cake and ice cream, I  just dished out a cupcake liner full of ice cream on the plate with the cake.  My friends were in love with this idea.  Nobody was left with mushy, last-scoop-from-the-container ice cream!

We can thank someone's bridal shower for this idea- stringing pictures from balloons.  My modifications: I used pics of my son from birth to just a month ago, put pictures on both sides so there was no white space, and as my mom and I learned during pre-party setup, those pictures weigh down the balloons.  I was prepared for that, so when my mom said "Well, it was a nice idea" I knew there was no "was" about it.  We just tied/wrapped the ribbon to my chandelier and voila- still worked.  A bit more subtle was the idea that the blue and white balloons were like a sky over our little tabletop construction site.

Here's a better view of the hanging pictures, as well as the little construction zone.  My husband is a city planner, so of course I put him to work laying out a black duct tape and masking tape road on the green table cloth.  I raided the play room for a bunch of construction toys and decorations, plunked down some construction worker duckies from Oriental Trading, and had one heck of a cute setup in place.  What was really sweet was watching my son investigate the pictures.  Some of them he remembered, like playing in the snow over Christmas, going to a park, Halloween, and visiting the train yard.  Others he didn't realize were of him, so he said things like "Look at the baby in the bathtub!  Baby in a blanket!"

Other side of the pictures.

Here we spy my traffic sign lollipops- another original idea, thank you!  I was disappointed that I couldn't find sign stickers to use, so I was left with printing out clip art signs I found online.  I cut those out and taped them to lollipops- easy peasy but very popular with the birthday boy and some guests.  :)

One of my son's favorite snacks is pretzels, and I thought they would be great stand ins as timber on our site.  I filled up some of his toys with them, and stacked them in a couple spots on the table, too.

In the week leading up to the party, I started asking my son these 20 questions I found on Pinterest.  He was a bit squirmy and funny answering some of these, but eventually my husband and I got answers to all 20.  I put out the album on the dining room table for our friends to look over.  The idea is that we'll add to the album with his answers each year and see how his answers change over time.  The moms and moms-to-be all thought this was a super sweet idea, and I definitely agree.

Ok this project makes me laugh, because I had it all planned out in my head as a very simple set up to use orange electrical tape to make a construction crane on the pillar and wall between our dining room and living room.  I told my husband he was going to make this for the party, and he must have been browsing the internet when I first told him because when I set out the supplies the night before the party, he was aghast at my evil plans.  He also critiqued the materials, because unbeknownst to me, electrical tape contracts.  Hence some of the off-kilter bits.  Still, our son spotted the construction crane right away and could tell what it was supposed to be, so in the end: mission accomplished.

The last bit of fun from our party: dump truck bean bag toss, another Pinterest idea.  How in the world did people plan kids' parties before Pinterest?  So many great and creative ideas out there, both to adapt or straight out steal, and to generate some ideas of your own.  Like I said, this was a great party that my son and our guests loved.  Some of the ideas will be keepers for years to come (like the ice cream scooping trick, and pre-portioned, labeled meals) and who knows- maybe some will be requested again by the special little guy.  Either way, I can tell that we're setting up some very fun memories for him, which just makes me grin ear to ear.  :)

March 1, 2013

Dump Truck Cake

I've been looking forward to posting this idea for a while now.  Perusing the construction-themed cake options online and at Michael's, I was disappointed.  I brainstormed a bit, ran ideas by a coworker, and decided to make my own dump truck cake.  I figured it could be pretty straightforward- a sheet cake with a loaf cake on top to be the cab, graham cracker walls for the truck bed, and... something... as filling in the truck bed.  I used a chocolate cake recipe from Martha Stewart, and her vanilla frosting recipe as well.  Christopher decided that yellow frosting was in order.  As far as that truck filling, well, inspiration hit after I'd carved the top off the sheet cake and carved the loaf cake to have a sloped, cab-like look.  I had piles of cake bits sitting around when Eureka! Instant truck filling!  Mixed in with some Reese's peanut butter cups and graham crackers, I had insta-dirt.  YUM.  I cannot WAIT to dig into this treat at my son's birthday party tomorrow!

Detailed pictures after directions.

  • Butter, for coating cake pans
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 lb (4 cups) confectioner's sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Gel food coloring (I used yellow)

  • 4 graham crackers
  • 4 Oreos
  • Jelly beans (2 red, 2 white)
  • 2 pretzel rods
  • 12 Reese's peanut butter cup minis
  • Chocolate cake pieces


  1. Preheat oven to 350°.  For the dump truck cake, I used one 9 x 13 pan and one 9 x 5 pan (loaf size).  Butter cake pans.  Line bottoms with parchment paper, and butter paper.  Dust the pans with cocoa, and tap out the extra.
  2. Sift cocoa, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar into a mixing bowl.  Fit the bowl into the base of your stand mixer, and one ingredient at a time mix in the oil, buttermilk, vanilla, eggs, and hot water, mixing at low speed.  Beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.  The batter will be very thin.
  3.  Pour batter into pans.  I filled the loaf pan about 1/3 full, and the sheet pan about 1/2 full.  Bake 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean.  My cakes were done at 45 minutes.
  4. Let cakes cool in pans on wire racks, 20 minutes, before inverting to remove.  Discard paper.  Cool completely on racks, tops sides up.  Cut off top of each cake for a flat, smooth top.  Cut a slope into the loaf pan for the truck's windshield.  Set aside scraps for dump truck filling.  Place the small loaf cake on top of the large cake, then frost.
  1. In a stand mixer, beat butter on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes.
  2. Reduce speed to medium.  Add the powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  After every two additions, raise the speed to high and beat 10 seconds to aerate the frosting, then reduce to medium speed again.  Frosting will be very pale and fluffy.
  3. Add vanilla, and beat until frosting is smooth.  Spoon about 1 cup of frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a round writing tip.  Add about 1/4 teaspoon gel food coloring and mix, adding more if needed, until frosting reaches desired color.  Scrape down sides of bowl to thoroughly incorporate food coloring and mix until color is even, without any white streaks.
Note: If not using immediately, frosting can be refrigerated up to 10 days in an airtight container.  Before using, bring to room temperature, then beat on low speed until smooth again (about 5 minutes).


  1. Thoroughly frost the cake, on all sides, with colored frosting.  Apply a thinner layer to start, and then cover with additional frosting for a smooth top coat.
  2. Place graham crackers along 3 sides of back of cake.  For the edge along the bumper, just break one graham cracker in half, and pipe white frosting along the seam.  Place Oreos as wheels on cake.  Put two white jelly beans on front bumper as headlights, and two red jelly beans on back bumper as tail lights.  Gently insert pretzel rods in truck cab as exhaust pipes.  
  3. Pipe on detail with the white frosting: windows, and windshield, truck grill, along graham cracker truck bed, license plates, and wheels.  For the windshield, I piped on the frosting generously and spread with a knife.
  4. Fill dump truck bed first with leftover cake scraps from trimming the cakes, broken into pieces.  Chop Reese's minis and sprinkle over cake pieces.  Crush remaining graham cracker half and sprinkle over top.  Add more as desired.  A couple gummy worms could be welcome additions, too!
Carved, stacked cakes

Alternate side of the cake

Back.  Those jelly bean tail lights are too cute.

"Dirt" filling